An innovative programme aimed at encouraging schoolchildren to cycle to school has been hailed as a fantastic success, and to mark Bike Week 2012, it has been announced that it will be rolled out further.
The Sustrans ‘Bike It’ programme, funded by the Public Health Agency (PHA), offers a range of cycling activities, increasing children’s physical activity, before, during and after school, subsequently helping them to be more healthy, active and alert in the classroom.
Health Minister Edwin Poots MLA joined Chris Totten, PHA, and Steven Patterson, Sustrans, in a visit to Ballymacash Primary School, Lisburn, to celebrate the programme.
Eight schools in the South Eastern area are currently participating in the scheme and the PHA plans to continue funding the initiative until 2014, increasing the number of participating schools to 24 over the programme, as well as continuing to support those schools already in the scheme. A similar scheme runs in the Belfast area.
Speaking about the programme, Chris Totten, Head of Health and Social Wellbeing Improvement (South East), PHA, said: “The Sustrans ‘Bike It’ programme enables local schoolchildren and their parents to make healthier choices and therefore improve their own emotional and physical health. Being active helps to keep in the normal weight range and it also increases confidence.
“We are delighted that Minister Poots has been able to see this work which is helping young people to live active lives, which will potentially be carried into adulthood."
Health Minister Edwin Poots said: “It is crucial for the population of Northern Ireland, especially our children, to be informed about the benefits of physical activity. Not only is it an important element in contributing to maintaining a healthy weight but can improve our mental health by helping prevent depression and promoting positive self-esteem.
Engaging children early in the benefits of physical activity, and indeed involving whole families in exercise, are key to tackling the problems caused by overweight and obesity.”
A Sustrans ‘Bike It’ officer provides activities such as cycling skills sessions, on-road cycle training and lessons on fixing punctures at each school. These help to raise awareness of the benefits of cycling to school and give children the skills to cycle safely, confidently and competently.
Steven Patterson, Director of Sustrans, Northern Ireland, said: “Getting around under our own steam is one of the best ways to get the exercise we need into our everyday routine, helping us all stay fit and healthy. The journey to school provides children with an excellent opportunity for our children to walk or cycle regularly, building good habits for life and saving the health service money in the long-term.
“Our programme in schools really works – it increases the number of children cycling to school on a regular basis, and we hope to promote more active travel to school as a way to keep Northern Ireland healthier.”
Sustrans ‘Bike It’ school-based activities included lessons, assemblies, poster competitions, on-road cycle training, bike maintenance workshops, after-school bike clubs, bike breakfasts, cycle skills sessions, competitions and special cycle to school days. These all contributed to creating a cycling culture in the schools, beyond the ‘Bike It’ project.
In addition to the scheme in the South East, a Sustrans ‘Bike It’ programme has also part-funded by the PHA and delivered to eight schools in the Belfast area.
Contact PHA Communications: (028) 9055 3663